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Workshop enables K-12 teachers to deepen knowledge of EU

April 4, 2011

On Friday, April 1, the European Union Center at Indiana University sponsored a workshop in Indianapolis for K-12 teachers from across the state. The workshop, entitled “The European Union and Why it Matters to the Midwest,” was designed for social studies and language teachers who wished to broaden their knowledge of the European Union and its member countries. The morning session featured presentations from two speakers. Professor John McCormick of the IUPUI Political Science Department provided a historical overview of the European Union and focused on several key questions that continue to provoke debate among experts. Among these questions is how exactly we should define the EU: is it a confederation, a federation, a regional organization, or something wholly unique? A lively discussion was also generated on some of the key differences between the European Union and the United States. In the late morning session, Dr. Gene Frankland, a Professor of Political Science at Ball State University, focused more specifically on the political institutions of the EU, the treaty making process through which it has evolved, and the widely discussed idea that it suffers from a “democratic deficit.” The latter topic, in particular, encouraged an interesting debate about the key components of democracy and differences between the EU and US in terms of how citizens hold their representatives accountable.

After lunch, the participants engaged in a simulation of the European Council in order to gain a better first-hand understanding of the EU decision-making process. With each participant representing a particular member state, the “Council” discussed two of the most pressing issues facing the European Union in recent weeks. They first discussed the ongoing financial crisis and efforts to deal with at the union level. As might be expected, this particular discussion debate featured sharp disagreements between the German and French representatives, on the one hand, and the Greek and Irish delegates on the other. At issue were the structural economic reforms that the countries should and would be required to implement in order to receive a reduced interest rate on the loans they received from the EU to bolster their struggling economies. The topic then switched to possible EU responses to the UN intervention in Libya. The simulation hopefully gave the participants an understanding of the difficulties of achieving consensus among 27 nation states of varying sizes and interests, and we hope that the exercise might be used in the classroom.

Overall, the event was a success, and the participants provided useful suggestions that could be incorporated into future workshops. Our hope is that the teachers can use the knowledge and material resources gained from the workshop to more confidently integrate the European Union into their curriculum.

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